Willowbrook man gets 55 years in shooting death of Hinsdale South grad

The Willowbrook man convicted of killing 18-year-old Joshua Holmes in the Hinsdale Lake Terrace apartment complex in September 2012 was sentenced to 55 years in prison Friday.

Juan Cuellar, 25, apologized to Holmes’ family before sentencing, saying he never meant to kill Holmes. Cuellar sought out Holmes after Cuellar’s brother paid Holmes for marijuana that Holmes did not deliver.

With his comments written on a piece of notebook paper, Cuellar sat in the witness stand Friday and offered “my sorrow and my apology to the family of Joshua Holmes for my role in all of this.”

Cuellar said he was sorry for all the pain and suffering he had caused the family.

“Sept. 24, 2012 was a tragic day for Joshua, for myself and for both of our families,” Cuellar said. “I never intended for him to die. It is a regrettable memory.I will continue to pray for peace and healing for your family.”

Cuellar said he hoped the family would be able to forgive him, if not today, than someday.

Outside of the Wheaton courtroom, after DuPage County Judge Daniel P. Guerin sentenced Cuellar, Holmes’ mother said she appreciated the apology.

“I do agree to the fact that both families are destroyed by this,” said Talanda Holmes. “But they will be able to see their son. Mine is not ever coming back.”

Still, Holmes said, she forgave Cuellar “a long time ago. For selfish reasons. I had to do that to keep myself together.”

Holmes talked about her son, saying he had just graduated from Hinsdale South High School and was looking forward to going to college to study music.

“He was a natural musician,” Talanda Holmes said. Drums, piano, guitar, he could play them all, she said.

He also was generous to his family, giving them some of the money he earned from his job.

“He looked out for his sisters and they looked out for him,” Talanda Holmes said.
She and Joshua’s siblings have had dreams that someone was trying to kill them and dreams of Joshua saying goodbye to them.

Although she knows he is dead, “this fact has yet to reach my heart,” Talanda said. “At curfew time, I still look for him to come walking across the grass.”

Cuellar was convicted of first-degree murder in April. The possible sentence ranged from 20 to 60 years, plus an additional sentence of 25 years to natural life because the murder was committed with a gun.

Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Knight argued the circumstances of the shooting warranted Cuellar receiving a sentence at the higher end of that range.

“The shooting of Joshua was a street execution,” Knight said.

The sentence should be long enough that Cuellar will not likely outlive it, he said.
“He does not deserve to have the hope that someday he might breathe free air,” Knight said.

Two of Cuellar’s aunt testified that he had a difficult childhood. His father was not around, and Cuellar had to be the man in the family.

Like Holmes, he shared money he earned from jobs at Dominick’s Finer Foods and Home Depot with his family.

Olivia Sanchez said when she learned her nephew was not going to graduate from Glenbard West High School after his senior year, because he did not have enough credits, she talked him into returning.

He graduated high school and took classes at College of DuPage, where he had a 3.6 grade point average, Sanchez said.

Cuellar also is a loving father to his son, who is 4 years old, Sanchez said.

The judge said he considered Cuellar’s jobs, education, the lack of a significant criminal record and the way he lit up when witnesses talked about his son as mitigating factors.

But the facts of the murder are the most important, Guerin said.

Cuellar sought out Holmes, shot him and stood over him while he died, Guerin said. Holmes was shot twice in the back, twice in the buttocks and once in the arm. Later, Cuellar tried to destroy all the evidence. He filed the serial number off the pistol he used, broke the gun into two parts and threw them into the Fox River near St. Charles. He also threw the remaining bullets in a sewer.

But the most disturbing evidence, Guerin said, was that when Holmes lie on the street, “bleeding and gurgling,” Cuellar did not try to save him. Instead, Holmes “offered a humiliating taunt,” Guerin said. “That is difficult to get past.”

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